Book Review: Unplugged
Thursday, July 26, 2018 at 2:51PM
Windy City Reviews

Unplugged: A Novel (15th Anniversary Edition). Paul McComas. Daniel & Daniel Publishers, October 7, 2017, Trade Paperback and E-book, 100 pages.

Reviewed by Hallie Koontz.

The 15thanniversary edition of Unplugged, originally published in 2002, comes with a full eight pages of accolades at the beginning of the book in the form of short reviews and one-line blurbs from magazines, newspapers, and other writers. Every single praise is deserved. 

Unplugged follows rocker Dayna Clay and her struggle with depression. Paul McComas’ portrayal of depression is vivid, realistic, and accessible. For readers who have never experienced the throes of depression firsthand, the depiction of Dayna’s journey is an excellent aid for understanding its mental landscape. What makes the journey even more poignant is that Dayna herself is complex, real, and arresting. 

Whatever reservations may exist regarding a male author writing about a female protagonist’s spiritual awakening—especially when sexual assault is a prominent part of that character’s past, as in Dayna’s case—are unfounded in the case of McComas. He writes Dayna’s flaws, fallbacks, strengths, and victories with insight and sensitivity; her gender identity is not ignored, just never the focus over other things that matter more to Dayna. Her sexuality, although not explored in the traditional sense—since Dayna is certain of it by the time the book begins—is explored in the sense that we, as readers, get to come to terms with it in partnership with Dayna. 

Many introspective novels that focus on a character’s inner journey struggle with external action can feel bogged down, but not Unplugged. McComas adeptly writes the external world to mirror the internal one, solidifying the connections Dayna makes and the way the physical world helps her manage her internal one. The most effective example of this is the lightning bolt shape that Dayna sees in her mind’s eye at a turning point in her life, which subsequently spurs her journey and helps her determine when she reaches her physical destination.

But perhaps my favorite aspect of this novel is how clearly McComas loves the setting he has chosen, reflected in his precise yet sweeping descriptions of the Badlands. Although I have never been to South Dakota, judging by the accuracy of his description of the drive west to Iowa—a drive I have made countless times when I was in college—I can only assume that he has replicated their majesty the best an author can. 

As a unique bonus for the anniversary reprint, there is an accompanying CD for Unplugged featuring the songs Dayna sings and writes in the book, and the reprint even has the sheet music, lyrics, and an “About the Songs” section. Reading the descriptions of Dayna’s music in the book and being able to listen to it is a very cool experience. McComas’ writing talents are not limited to the page—the music functions as an extension of the story but, more than that, the songs are a good listen in their own right. If you buy the book, be sure to buy the CD as well!  

Unplugged is heartfelt, uplifting, and personal. Even if you do not share Dayna’s experiences, the lows and the highs both feel natural, and none of the victories feel cheap or unearned. If you like character studies, genuine emotional and physical breakthroughs, and interplay between the physical and mental worlds, Unplugged is for you.   

 

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